Monday, July 02, 2007

Psalm 1

Kevin Edgecomb has begun posting a set of translations - under the rubric formal and informal. I hope I can respond occasionally. I will be the tortoise.

I drafted Psalm 1 about 10 months ago. My first portrait was in pink, grey and blue. The Torah colour of purple also emerged.

Happy the man who has not walked in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners has not stood
and in the seat of the scornful has not sat

It is 'the man' (הָאִישׁ) but it brings to mind the birth of Asher (by alliteration - asheri ha ish asher) so it includes the woman Leah (ach! not to forget Zilpah). I cannot make this inclusive in translation without doing violence to the poetry. Also - even an informal translation should respect the threefold structure and variety of position: walk, stand, sit. And I am not happy, for whether I have taken advice of the wicked or stood in the way of the sinner, I know I have envied the repartee of the scornful.

Asheri - rejoice! How will I rejoice? I will compare the two ways that are to come in the poem - on the one hand, and on the other (כִּי אִם) and I will hope that I can find delight. I do, but I cannot judge my own fruitfulness or reliability. And prosperity also is not to be measured lest it get the better of me and I become such debris as is blown away by the wind.

Therefore - by the knowledge of the LORD, a division is foretold and confirmed. How will I stand if the wicked will not stand?

Here is a version of psalm 1

Happy is the man who walks
not in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners stands not
and in the seat of the scornful sits not

for if in the teaching of the LORD is his delight
and in his teaching he meditates day and night
he shall be like a tree
transplanted by streams of water
that is fruitful and reliable in its time
and its leaf does not fade
and in all that it does it prospers

Not so the wicked - for if ... like the chaff that wind scatters
Therefore stands not the wicked in the judgment
nor sinners in the company of the righteous
For the LORD knows a way for the righteous
but the way of wickedness will perish.

I am still very close to the literal, perhaps too close, but there is such an expressive parsimony here that I like to imitate with less rather than more. With fewer words, I have more hope.

I see that in my first draft, I was not as careful with the definite article as I might be. Is 'the way' better than 'a way'? English passes over the definite article as generic in some cases and as specific in others. In this case, I think English needs to acknowledge that 'a way' is not referring to an exclusive or only way as if uniformity was the operative aspect of the article. Generally speaking, I think 'a' is preferable just to knock us out of our 'obvious' pietistic responses.

1 comment:

John said...

It is fun for me to look at your Psalms once in a while. I would love to do something like you are doing. Of course, I would want to find a way to allow readers to visually track the prosody of the text, that is, the poetic verses, lines, and strophes of the text.

The automatic parsing feature is a must also. Once that is in place, along with a visual prosodic representation, and perhaps a visual representation of the dynamics of parallelism (THE trope of ancient Hebrew poetry, as we all know), a very illuminating and user-friendly form of the text would be born.

I have issues with your translation here and there, of course. But it is tedious to go through things item by item.

Thanks for what you are doing.

John Hobbins
www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com